by Josh Adams
New York- Casey Alexander gathered his Lipscomb team during the last media timeout and had a simple message for them as they huddled on the Madison Square Garden floor.
Here they were, down seven to Wichita State with three minutes and some change remaining in the NIT Semifinal. Alexander didn’t yell at them, he didn’t draw up a play, he simply told his team, “What more could you ask for?”
It was a message to them to soak in what they’ve accomplished. This Lipscomb team could have packed it in after losing to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun Tournament final and seeing their NCAA Tournament dreams halted. What was left for them was an NIT berth that seemed like an impossible hill to climb to get to the Semifinal here on Tuesday night. Three true road games stood between the Bisons and the NIT Semifinals. Three games all in North Carolina, playing three schools that have bigger budgets, name recognition and home court advantage.
Well, as Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall described it after tonight’s game, “Lipscomb went through the state of North Carolina like General Sherman went through Georgia”.
That they did. First, a win at Davidson, then a win at the #1 seed UNC-Greensboro and finally an epic battle in Raleigh as they rallied around a 44 point performance by Bisons star Garrison Mathews to upset NC State, 94-93. Now, down seven to Wichita State with a few minutes remaining, it was a new hill for the Bisons to climb. Tonight was no different than the others they conquered. Lipscomb ended the game on a 14-0 run to beat the Shockers 71-64 and will play in the NIT Final on Thursday night on ESPN.
What is evident about this Lipscomb team is while they may not have a big school athletic budget what they do have is a coach who is building a winning program and players that are tough and are used to performing in pressure situations. Mathews was stellar in the first half but went cold in the second half as Wichita extended their lead to 11 with eight minutes left in the game. Someone other than Mathews needed to step up and the team rallied together to cut the Shockers lead to four after Nathan Moran hit a three pointer for the Bisons. That shot started the run of 14 straight Lipscomb points to close out the game and give the Bisons the win.
It’s a testament to the program that when the bright lights of national TV and Madison Square Garden were on them, they didn’t wilt. “I really do trust my players.”, said Alexander about the run to win the game, “They are the ones that have to perform and make plays but we try to put them in good positions to do that. When you have good players and a good team that plays together, then they are going to perform.”
In this new era of college basketball where there’s mixtapes, big money shoe deals and TV contracts it’s refreshing to see a school like Lipscomb get a few moments in the sun. They will have another giant to play in the Texas Longhorns who won the other Semifinal game against TCU. It really won’t matter. They will be there on Thursday, on the road yet again with one more hill to climb before a NIT Championship. A million people watching in sports bars or at home across the nation will see a small school from Nashville on ESPN and wonder, “Who’s Lipscomb?”
Mathews summed up the answer to that question best after tonight’s win.
“They are a great team.”